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Do your online interactions pass the Grandma test?

Dave Eisenmann, who has been the director of instructional technology and media services for Minnetonka Public Schools since 2003, spoke with middle school students and parents Wednesday in Perham on keeping kids safe online. (Michael Johnson / FOCUS)

When your teen turns 16, do you hand over the keys without any training or without a care in the world about what might happen? A speaker shared with youth and parents in Perham that the use of technology is similar in that parents should take the time to walk their children through expectations and what is healthy.

Middle school students and parents had the opportunity to learn about some of these things and so much more in a free talk on healthy technology use in Perham Wednesday, April 18.

The talk was led by Dave Eisenmann, who has been the director of instructional technology and media services for Minnetonka Public Schools since 2003. He is an assistant professor at Saint Mary's University Minneapolis and also has taught classes on instructional technology for the University of Minnesota.

Since 2006 Eisenmann has spoken to over 65,000 students, staff, and parents in schools, churches, and businesses about cyber and internet safety issues, digital citizenship, and healthy balance and relationships with technology in over 100 communities around Minnesota.

Eisenmann was welcomed in by Calvary Lutheran Church youth director Tracy Bieger, who said she wanted to hear him speak and get more parents involved in walking their children through healthy use of technology. About 25 adults came to hear the talk at the church.

"I get that we can't put our kids in a bubble," Bieger said. "But parents have got to be engaged."

She referred to her job as the "prefrontal cortex" for her children (the cover in the front of the brain which helps in the development of decision making). Eisenmann noted in his talk that students in elementary and middle school are too young to be using social media as their brains have not developed fully and are likely to make bad decisions. Bad decisions that can have lifelong implications.

Bieger gave an example of a student she knows that came to her as a high schooler, wishing her parents had not let her get a phone when she was in seventh grade. The student felt she made most of her bad decisions because of not knowing boundaries with the device.

Eisenmann provided some interesting statistics based on polling done during his visit. He suggested to students that because their content can be on the internet forever, they need to consider what they are putting out there and whether or not it would be acceptable to their grandmas.

In one poll in Perham, 81 percent of 110 eighth graders indicated they had posted something to social media that would not pass the grandma test.

Another poll he read about indicated 79 percent of youth reported unwanted exposure to porn was happening in the home.

"Porn stays with you," Eisenmann said.

While drugs and alcohol can be flushed from your system, online porn was something that can't just be erased from the mind, he said.

Eisenmann reminded parents that technology is not all bad. But he suggested that kids need guidance. He told parents to avoid jumping on their children asking them if they had done something wrong. He said a better way to talk to kids about their use of technology is to ask, "what would happen if," type questions. What would happen if you saw an inappropriate image online? What would you do if your friends are playing a certain type of video game? What would you do if you encountered bullying on social media? Instead of accusing, get their opinion about different scenarios and see if you can have a conversation about that. Like talking about sex, Eisenmann said, these are not one-time conversations.

He shared a story of reading books with his daughter and brushing her teeth, while looking at his phone. Luckily his daughter called him out and that let him know that he was putting his phone before his own children. That was a major turning point for him. He now sets parameters of when phones can be used and where they can be used.

As we are entering into the summer schedule soon, now may be a good time to start talking to your children about expectations of how technology will be used in a healthy manner.

Check out daveeisenmann.com for hundreds of tools to come to a healthier place in the technology realm.

Here are ten tips Eisenmann shares for making this happen:

• Be proactive. Begin talking to your kids now at the start of the summer about your expectations, hopes, and your own struggles. Check out parent-child media agreements from Common Sense Media as a starting point.

• Limit access to adult content. Summer often means less parental supervision. Turn on free restrictions in the settings on a smartphone to reduce the availability of porn sites and inappropriate content. Do the same for your home wifi, too, using a free tool like Open DNS.

• Take advantage of tools to help you monitor the time you and your child spend on devices. On an smartphone, you can simply go to Settings>Battery and tap the clock to view the number of minutes per day/week spent in each app. Set goals for reducing times if necessary.

• Summer doesn't have to be tech free. Entertainment on a screen in moderation isn't bad. Just don't let it be a huge part of your day. Decide what an appropriate amount is for you and your child and try to stick to these guidelines.

• Help your child create a positive digital presence. Talk about how your kids represent themselves online and how it will affect their future. Discuss what is OK to photograph and video. Help your kids T.H.I.N.K. before they post and digitize things Grandma would be comfortable viewing.

• Boredom is OK. Help your child learn it's not necessary to always be entertained, watching YouTube, playing video games, surfing the internet, or checking social media. Encourage physical activity, being outside, reading a book, and playing a board game.

• Go off the grid occasionally. Plug your phone in to charge and leave it leashed. Don't take it with you, go do something with your child, and don't post about it on social media. Show children that the time you spend with them is important.

• Practice being present. Establish tech free zones like the dinner table, car rides, and on family outings. Friends are especially important to teens, so talk through and agree to boundaries and expectations for vacations, such as allowing an hour of social media/gaming each evening to maintain those connections yet prevent constant distraction and interruption, texting and SnapChatting during the day.

• Trust your kids and gradually give them more freedom as they show responsibility. Check in with them and discuss how they are using technology and social media. Let them carry their technology with them and practice not constantly checking it.

• Talk with other adults about helping kids have a healthy balance with technology. Compare notes with other parents and share successes and struggles. Even though your child may tell you that everyone has an iPhone, Snapchat, and uses Instagram by fifth grade, you will find that's not the case. Many parents don't give kids smartphones in elementary school, many parents keep devices out of kids' bedrooms overnight, and many parents hold off on allowing social media until middle school or later.